An interesting idea was raised by Calvin in the comments section yesterday. Given the poor attendance the Edmonton Oilers farm team is seeing in Oklahoma, should they play games in Edmonton at some point?
In a lot of ways, I think that the perfect time for the Barons to play games in Edmonton might have been during last year’s post-season. The Oilers have made a habit the last few years of being on the golf course by early April, and while the Oil Kings have enjoyed playoff success I suspect there’s enough interest for two teams to play post-season games.
That interest was decidedly lacking in Oklahoma. After averaging 3,684 fans during the regular season, attendance dipped to an average of 2,632 in the playoffs. I don’t doubt that Edmonton could have furnished more fans – and fans willing to pay higher prices – to watch Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen and Anton Lander enjoy playoff success in the AHL.
This year, with no NHL hockey to follow and fans in Oklahoma largely indifferent to the arrival of guys like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz, the appeal of the idea is obvious.
There are a few largish hurdles to overcome, and they’re difficult enough that I’m not sure the idea would be practical.
1. “Replacement” players. In 2004-05, with Edmonton’s then farm team moving west to play in Rexall, Oilers executives denied that AHL hockey was a replacement for the NHL, and suggested that the team would stay in Edmonton for the foreseeable future. The reasoning behind that was understandable: the NHLPA would surely raise a stink over what it perceived to be replacement players. If the Barons started playing games in Edmonton, there would be trouble.
Whether or not the NHLPA could stop the Oilers from hosting AHL games in Rexall, it’s probably also worth wondering what bona fide NHL’ers – Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall – would think about playing in Rexall during the lockout.
2. Logistics. The AHL plays a far more unbalanced regular season schedule than the NHL, which leads to frequent matches between teams in the same geographic area. In Oklahoma’s case, that means lots of games against teams in the southern United States. Additionally, the AHL sticks games together in quick succession – of the Barons 13 games this month, just two aren’t back-to-backs and they started November with a run of three games in three days, and those games included travel.
Even if the Oilers were willing to subsidize other teams to travel to Edmonton, the logistics of such a scenario would be difficult with the current schedule. The playoffs would be significantly easier, but then there’s always the hope that the lockout ends before it comes to that.
3. Damage to the Oklahoma market. I have no idea whether the Oilers are planning to stay in Oklahoma long term, or whether tepid attendance in the face of successful teams and incredible talent has convinced them that the Barons will need to be moved at some point. Playing games in Edmonton now – particularly playoff games – would be a signal to what fans there are in Oklahoma that the team’s future there is on shaky footing; it could cause further damage to the market.
At A Glance…
As much as seeing the Barons in Edmonton would be good for fans here, and good for the bottom line of the Oilers organization, I just can’t see it happening this year. The hurdles are simply too big.
For fans hoping to watch the Oilers young stars live, the best hope right now is a breakthrough in collective bargaining. You know – after the two-week break.